tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg March 24, 2017 10:00pm-11:01pm EDT
♪ >> from our studios in new york city, this is "charlie rose." charlie: michael morell is here. he is one of our nation's leading national security professionals. he most recently served as cia deputy director and twice as acting director. i am pleased to have him back at this table. welcome. michael: it is great to have you back. charlie: let me start with this. this is this morning's washington post. house intelligence chair alleges spy agency abuse. wall street journal -- g.o.p. lawmaker sparks new battle over trump spy claimant. g.o.p. leader puts new spin on wiretaps. take me through this. unpack this.
i don't think most understand what the republican chairman of the house intelligence committee is saying. michael: charlie, this is complicated. let me start with the punchline, the bottom line. this in no way validates the president's claim that he was or or his associates at trump tower were the target of surveillance by the obama administration. it does not even come close to validating. not even close. what did the chairman say to the media and apparently to the president? he said he had a dozen intelligence reports that somebody gave to him. he did not get them officially from one of the agencies. somebody gave them to him and said i think there is a problem here, take a look at these.
a dozen intelligence reports that he said involved incidental collection of u.s. persons, incidental collection about trump transition team members. that is what he said he saw. he also said he was troubled that some of the names he saw were unmasked. we will talk about what all of that means. let's start with what incidental collection is. there are two types of incidental collection. in one type of incidental collection, you are collecting on two foreign intelligence targets talking to each other. make it a foreign minister of china and foreign minister of russia talking to each other. in their conversation, they talk about a u.s. person. that is incidental collection on that u.s. person. that is one type.
there is another type of incidental collection which is where you have a legitimate foreign intelligence target in a conversation you collect, but in that conversation they are talking to a u.s. person. foreign intelligence target on one end of the phone and a u.s. person on the other end of the phone. that is also considered incidental collection. incidental collection happens all the time. obviously, foreign officials in their conversations are talking about americans. charlie: is that what we think happened with michael flynn? michael: i think michael flynn was the second type. charlie: right, that is what i mean. michael: incidental collection happens all the time. the first question, and there are really three agencies where this happens. it happens at n.s.a. most frequently. it happens with the f.b.i. in their intelligence collections and sometimes with the central intelligence agency.
those are the three agencies where it happens. when it happens, it is very easy, it is usually very easy to see it is a u.s. person. it is the name, phone number, context of the discussion. they actually mentioned the persons named so it is easy to see they are talking about a u.s. person or talking to a u.s. person. the first judgment the collecting agency has to make is, is there information here of intelligence value we need to disseminate? if the answer to that question is no, then all of that is discarded. but if the answer to that question is yes, there is intelligence value in this conversation, either about a person or with a person, then they disseminate that. i know n.s.a. when it comes to these procedures. that decision about whether to
disseminate incidental, information that includes incidental collection is a rigorous process at n.s.a. it is not just one person making the decision. it is one person recommending it be disseminated and then check off, check off at higher levels. the decision to disseminate that is a significant one. with regard to the kind of incidental collection where a u.s. person is talking to the foreign intelligence target, you can only, even if you decide to disseminate, you can only disseminate what the foreign intelligence target was saying. you cannot disseminate what the american citizen was saying. you can only say, "the russian ambassador in a conversation with a u.s. person said the following." you can't say, "and in response, the u.s. person said xyz." you cannot do that. there only two cases where you can disseminate what a u.s. person said.
it is rare. it is when they admit they have conducted a crime, yesterday i robbed a bank, i shot somebody. or they say they are going to commit a crime, so they pose an imminent threat. i'm going to conduct a terrorist attack tomorrow. in that case, this incidental collection specifically about the u.s. person can be turned over to the f.b.i. to take action to prevent or solve a crime or prevent a crime. but that is it. that is really rare. when a u.s. person, very important for viewers to understand, when a u.s. person is caught up in intelligence collection in a conversation with a legitimate intelligence target, almost never does something that person said get disseminated. the next big issue here is called masking. chairman nuñez focused a lot of this yesterday. what is masking?
masking is when you have incidental collection, for most u.s. persons, you cannot use their name. so you do not say, the russian ambassador in conversation with michael morell or the russian ambassador and some other russian talking about michael morell, it cannot use the name. you have to say "u.s. person." if there is more than one, you say u.s. person one and two. that is the way it gets disseminated. there is an exception to that. i think what the chairman had might be the exception. the exception is the most senior u.s. officials. and i think also senior officials in the transition, including the president-elect. the most senior officials do not get masked. when two foreign officials are
talking about the u.s. president, that is not get masked into u.s. person one or two. they disseminate it with the president of the united states or i would bet, the president-elect of the united states. i bet that is some of what chairman nuñez saw. charlie: do you think that might have been what president trump might have seen that caused him to form the belief he articulates? michael: it is possible because he was receiving intelligence reports when he was the president-elect. he was getting a briefing as often as he wanted one. maybe he saw some of those. maybe he saw some of that with general mattis were rex tillerson or michael flynn. maybe that led him to think somebody is surveilling us. no, it is incidental collection. when you have one of these intelligence reports in front of
you and you have these masks, u.s. person one and two, the most senior officials in our government, people at my level and above when i was in government, the deputy level and above, can ask n.s.a., the f.b.i., c.i.a., depending on who produced the information, they can ask for that information to be unmasked. so, i could say to n.s.a., i need to know who that u.s. person is. u.s. person one, i need to know that, and i need to know it for the following reasons. charlie: to unmask somebody if you are the deputy director -- michael: or higher, you have to have a good reason. who decides whether that is a good reason? michael: in the case of n.s.a., because they do this more than anybody, there is only 20 people
at the national security agency who can approve an unmasking request. it is taken very seriously. michael morell wants us to unmask this name. here is why he says he needs it. answer yes or no. there has got to be a good reason. when something does get unmask, when you do tell michael morell who u.s. person one is, you do not tell anybody else. there is not this broad distribution of the unmasking chairman nuñez implied yesterday. it goes to only the person who made the request. here is what is interesting. people in the transition who were receiving intelligence reports, and maybe they see intelligence target talking to u.s. person one or talking about u.s. person one, and they are talking about how to approach the trump administration. if you are the head of the trump transition, you might want to know who u.s. person one or two is.
you can ask through your briefer who comes to see you every day. and n.s.a. will make a determination. i am not saying it happened. but it is not impossible some of the unmasking was at the request of the trump transition. charlie: why is this coming forward now? michael: i think there is a political answer to that. and there is a tactical answer. political answer is the president is under fire for claiming that the obama administration surveilled him. charlie: the f.b.i. director said he had seen no evidence of that in every other intelligence official. michael: right, so the president is hanging out there politically. i think chairman nuñez was trying to help them out. that is the political motivation. the tactical one is someone put the reports in front of the chairman and said, we think this is significant. there's all these reports out there with the names -- charlie: and that likely came from?
michael: it is not 100% clear to me who disseminated these reports. it is possible it is n.s.a. it is possible it is c.i.a. the chairman said it was fisa reporting, which takes you to n.s.a. or the f.b.i. charlie: meaning somebody used that in a request. michael: fisa is if the intelligence community wants to collect in the united states , either against a foreign government or foreign person or a u.s. person who they think might be an agent of a foreign power and they have some evidence they are an agent of a foreign power, that requires a fisa warrant. that requires the intelligence community to make an argument for why they want to do that. collection overseas against foreign nationals does not require a fisa warrant. charlie: who would do that here,
n.s.a. or f.b.i.? michael: both. c.i.a. on rare occasions. charlie: the other complaint, from adam schiff for example, and john mccain has brought this point as well rather then bring , it to the house intelligence committee, he went right to the white house. michael: i think he took it to the white house and media. i think he had a responsibility but i think he acted inappropriately. i think what he should have done and what practice says he should have done is number one, he should have gone back to the relevant agency, whether the f.b.i. or c.i.a. or n.s.a., to go back to the relevant agency and said, i was given these. how do i think about these? are there any more like these? help me understand these. that should have been step one.
step two should have been to take that answer and share it with the entire committee before taking any action of briefing the president, let alone the media. charlie: you said in the beginning this has nothing to do with whether president obama's administration bugged trump tower. michael: what the president said was that he and his associates were actually the targets of surveillance, that the surveillance was targeted on them. that is what he said. and the president of the united states personally approved it, which is ridiculous. presidents do not approve things like that. that is what he said. this collection, based on the chairman's own words, was not targeted at any u.s. person. it was targeted at a foreign national and there was u.s. person information incidentally collected. that is why the incidentally collected is so important. charlie: the impact in terms of
how people have characterized it has raised questions about the independence of the house intelligence committee. john mccain said for example, that the committee needs a select committee. michael: i think the chairman has done himself damage. the chairman is supposed to be running an objective, nonpartisan investigation into the trump campaign's ties to russia, specifically whether or not they cooperated, conspired with the russian campaign to interfere in our election. that is what he is supposed to be doing. when he does something like this that looks of political, he undermines the credibility of what he is doing. that is why people like john mccain are reacting to this the way they are. from the beginning, i have believed we need a commission to look at this. the commission --
charlie: a 9/11 commission or something else? michael: in a perfect world, a 9/11 commission. that will not happen because it requires a presidential signature on legislation. i think the best we can hope for would be a joint inquiry of congress where it is a congressional inquiry but joint with a select committee. charlie: like the watergate committee? michael: yes. what would that commission or committee look at? i think number one, the first thing they would look at is, what did the russians actually do? the intelligence community has a view on that. but we may not fully understand everything they did. or how they did it. charlie: what do you think they did? michael: let me tell you what the intelligence community said they did. and then i will tell you what i think. what the intelligence community said in a declassified document
during the last weeks of the obama administration, the intelligence community said the russians did three things. number one, the one everybody knows about, which is they used cyber espionage to steal emails from the d.n.c. and john podesta and turned the most damaging material over to wikileaks and other organizations, damaging from the perspective of secretary clinton. charlie: they have suggested it was the russian government that did it and did it at the direction of vladimir putin? that is what the f.b.i. is suggesting. michael: they said it clearly, at the direction of vladimir putin. initially with the intent of undermining our democracy, raising questions about our democracy, undermining secretary
clinton, who vladimir putin hates. but it evolved towards a preference for donald trump. eventually to actually help donald trump. when it looked like when she was going to win in early october, to undermine her presidency should she become president, to weaken her. all of that was his intent. that is the first thing they did. the second thing they did which most people have not heard about, don't fully understand, which i think was actually more powerful at the end of the day, is the use of social media to both create fake news and amplify fake news. news that was damaging to secretary clinton. so for example, when the secretary slipped on september 11 in new york, there were
several hundred thousand tweets within a few minutes coming out of eastern europe and russia raising questions about whether she was fit to be the president of the united states. charlie: where do you think they came from? michael: they came from russian intelligence and their use of proxies. a large number of proxies to push out social media. this use of social media as a weapon against our democracy went over a large time right up until the end of the election. it impacted the polls. you could see the impact on the polls. charlie: let me talk about a couple of things. we have had people beyond the testimony from mike rogers, the head of d.n.i. said he had seen no evidence of a collusion. there has been some
clarification of that. do you know what he meant? michael: i think i know what he meant. let me do one more thing. the third thing the russians did is they tried unsuccessfully to get into the vote counting machines. unsuccessfully. i believe had they been successful, they would have tried to tamper with the vote. this was not just a test run. charlie: more difficult than they thought? michael: absolutely. to answer your question, in this big russian campaign -- charlie: this is the same time that he answered in an interview on "meet the press," i have seen no evidence of the fact the obama administration tried to bug trump tower. michael: right. in this big russian campaign to try to influence the outcome of our election, there is a question. the question is, did anybody in the trump campaign know about this or assist it, conspired with the russians in any way?
that is the big question. charlie: that is why it is an ongoing investigation. michael: that is what the said is being investigated now by the f.b.i. it is also being investigated by the two intelligence committees. it is also being investigated by a bunch of reporters. what i say, charlie, is that there are lots of things that have to be investigated. roger stone's apparent knowledge -- not apparent -- roger stone's knowledge that information about john podesta's emails was about ready to come out. he knew about that a week ahead of time. things that roger stone did, things that paul manafort did.
charlie: roger stone said that is not what he meant at all. michael: it was pretty clear to me. paul manafort, it now appears he made a major proposal to the russian government to assist them in their informational campaign domestically and overseas. he said he did not have anything to do with the russians ever. there are all sorts of things to investigate. that is what i call smoke. charlie: but do you see any fire? michael: i personally have not seen any fire. and what jim clapper told me on "meet the press" was that jim clapper did not see any fire up to january 20 when he walked out the door. he did not see any evidence of collusion on this questions we just talked about. charlie: no evidence of an attempt. michael: just because there is an investigation, some people in
the last few days have said jim comey admitting there is an investigation into this must mean there is some evidence. not the case. a counterintelligence evidence has a low standard to get started. charlie: donald trump before and since he has been president, there has been this question of his relationship with the intelligence community. all of the intelligence community. he has raised questions about the competence and leaking and whether they are acting in the national interest. how is that relationship today, because you know these people? michael: my understanding is that it is getting better. it is much better. the things -- most of the things you're talking about happened during the transition. and most of the things you're talking about happened in response to the intelligence community's judgment putin was trying to help him and hurt secretary clinton, and he did not like that message.
charlie: donald trump did not like any insinuation that because of that, he might not have won the election. michael: exactly. that is what he did not like. he pushed back against that by raising questions about the effectiveness, credibility of the intelligence community in general and the c.i.a. in particular. that is what happened. he should not have done that, but that is what he did. that caused a big morale problem. since becoming president, and by the way, during that transition, he was not interacting much with his daily briefer. he was not taking many daily briefings. he did not seem to be paying attention. things are different today. my understanding is he is not receiving it every day, but he is receiving it regularly, up to three times a week. that he is putting considerable time into it. the c.i.a. director is in the room, along with a briefer, that
the president is listening and asking questions. i think things are getting better. charlie: is there general, in terms of national security respect for the cia director because of outstanding academic performance at west point and because of what they know about his positions in congress and because of the way he has handled the c.i.a.? or is that going to far? michael: i think when mike pompeo came to c.i.a., i think the people at c.i.a. had a question about him. the question about mike was, this guy was really political as a congressman. this guy beat the crap out of us on benghazi. this guy raised real questions about our integrity with regard to benghazi.
this guy was a major critic of secretary clinton on the emails. so there was a question, would he bring that partisanship into the c.i.a.? charlie: and the answer is so far? michael: he has not. he knew going in he would have to deal with that problem. i think he has dealt with it effectively. i don't think there's anybody in c.i.a. -- charlie: he is the best person to bring respect between the intelligence community overall and the trump administration so that they trust each other, and so that if the intelligence community makes a recommendation, the president believes it. michael: that relationship is very important for that reason. charlie: what happened to the dossier produced by the former british intelligence operative. michael: it is still out there. i am sure it is input into the f.b.i. investigation. the f.b.i. is probably looking at it for leads.
when that came out, i read it three times. charlie: all 28 pages? michael: i don't know how many memos over a long time, each memo two or three pages, it was a lot. i read it three times. i said to myself, can i tell anything from this? does this tell me anything? my answer was no, i cannot tell if there's anything in here that is true. and i really cannot tell if there's anything in here that is false. why? because i did not know who the sources were. chris had written source a, b, c, so i did not know who the sources were. and number two, i did not know how the source acquired the information. if you are my source and you give me a piece of information,
you may be a very reliable source. you may tell me exactly what you know. you answer my questions fully. you have been working for me for 20 years. you give me one piece of information and i say where did you get this, you say i actually saw this memo as it was going to the prime minister. i can take that to the bank. but the next day, you might give me another piece of information and i say, where did you get this? and you say, i heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend. and i say, i cannot believe that. so i did not know who the sources were, and i did not know how the sources acquired the specific information listed. so, i cannot tell what is true and not. i simply cannot make any judgment about it at all. what worries you right now most hopeful about the presidency of donald trump and the relationship with the
intelligence community in general? michael: the thing that i am most worried about is that in a crisis, whether a crisis at home, the bombing of the federal building in oklahoma city, or a terrorist attack here or some significant event overseas, outbreak of the war that might involve he was forces -- when a crisis happens, what the president says really matters. and in order for it to have the right effect overseas and at home, the president has to be credible. the president has to be credible. when he hurts himself by saying things like, "president obama spied on me" -- everybody knows that is not true. that undermines his credibility. when we get into a crisis, i do
not want to have a situation where people at home or abroad are questioning whether they can believe the president of the united states and what he is saying. charlie: thank you. i should note in interest of full disclosure, michael morell was an advisor to the hillary clinton campaign and is a consultant also to cbs news. we will be right back. stay with us. ♪
♪ charlie: kati marton is here, a journalist and author. she's written eight books, including "hidden power" and "enemies of the people," which was a national critics' choice award finalist. her latest book is called "true believer: stalin's last american spy." i'm pleased to have her back on this program. tell me who know what field is. h field is.who noa kati: he is a mysterious figure from the cold war was used by stalin to basically try to destroy the american system. many parallels with what is going on today in terms of russian attempts to undermine washington at the highest levels. he was an idealist who was captured by a faith at an early age, and it became like a drug, communism, hard-core stalinism. and he set out to do good in the
world and ended up doing terrible damage, all in the name of this faith. destroying his family first of all, and then tried to destroy his own country, all for stalin. charlie: there is also this. your parents who were journalists in hungary. kati: it is a strange intersection. the reason the story has not been known until now, although he played a huge role in the cold war, was because stalin did not want him ever to talk to western media after the torment he had been through, which i'm sure we will get to, the torture. but my parents were the only journalists who ever found him in his hideaway in budapest during the chaos of the hungarian revolution and surprised the man and his wife who asked for political asylum in hungary, afraid to come back to america because he had been
unmasked as a soviet spy by then. and so, the only existing interview with field was one that my parents did. and i was the fortunate beneficiary of that. a lot of pain went into that. charlie: had you known about this for a long time? kati: i had heard, when my father was freed from two years of maximum prison, the same prison field was in, he told us as his jailer was leading him to his cell, the jailer said, congratulations, you got the v.i.p. cell recently vacated by an american agent. the v.i.p. cell did not mean a cell with a danube view, it meant more surveillance than any other. the same noel field? the name stuck in my head as a little kid. flash forward many years and i am reading arthur schlesinger's memoir and up pops his name.
i started researching. i found his surviving family members who also were in the dark about what happened to this man who disappeared behind the iron curtain. charlie: what happened to him? kati: what happened was he was kidnapped by stalin's goons while he was serving the k.g.b. but when stalin needed at the end of his life, advanced paranoid, needed to get rid of his perceived rivals, he decided to use this american who knew all of the communist big shots in the soviet empire because they were all working for the same cause great he had him kidnapped from his hotel in prague, drugged, and tortured into confessing that he was not k.g.b., as he was, but c.i.a., and all of his comrades who stalin wanted to liquidate were also c.i.a.
so in one blow, stalin was able to execute all of these people through the confession of this one american. charlie: clearly, that was an act of -- how would you describe what it was for noel field? he had no choice or he believed? kati: he was a true believer, as the title says. he became such a passionate servant of this terrible, destructive ideology, and had made so many sacrifices. he had given up a lucrative, promising career as a diplomat in the state department. he betrayed his country. and his own family did not know he was an agent. and he was a product of that time in washington, much like today, where people were
searching for an answer to every problem. and the problems were abundant. 10 million unemployed from the depression, and a washington that just prior to f.d.r. launching the new deal was really starved of ideas, and capitalism seemed to have failed. and here was communism selling a bill of goods that this generation, many of the best and brightest, believed. moscow picked out those that were vulnerable to seduction. they had talent scouts searching for people who seemed somewhat alienated and idealistic, and yet positioned her big careers. charlie: what happened to this man?
kati: absolutely crushed by this man who never told them he was working for stalin, and in fact tried to lure them into the craft of espionage. the heroine of this saga who i loved writing about, writing a book is like a marriage, you have to like the subject. noel field is not the most lovable guy. he is complex and interesting. but his daughter, erica wallach, was a force of nature. her children were very helpful to me. i could not have done this because this is very much a human drama, i could not have done this -- and yes, of the cost of total belief and sort of abdicating reason. i thought the comparison would be made to isis, the recruitment of vulnerable young people to
isis. but then along came all of this news of moscow again manipulating our affairs. one of the cast of characters in "true believer" is alger hiss, who was a close friend of noel field and tried to recruit him into the soviet military. by then, noel field was working for the k.g.b., political. but there is not a shadow of a doubt after you read this book that alger hiss was a spy, and a pretty good one, too. charlie: because of the effort to recruit. michael: and other things. my father had the same interrogator in prison as noel field. it was through this interrogator my father learned a great deal about alger hiss.
i also found letters in the secret police archives where i worked in both moscow and budapest, letters between hiss and field that made it absolutely crystal clear that alger hiss was indeed a spy. charlie: how long did it take you to write this? kati: this is my ninth book. i average 3.5 to four years. this was four years and a lot of time spent in archives. call me strange. don't call me strange. [laughter] kati: i enjoy archival work because a lot of it is tedious, but then you find something others have missed. it is very rewarding. charlie: congratulations. kati: thank you so much for talking to me about it. thank you. ♪
♪ ethan: good evening. i'm ethan bronner filling in for charlie rose. venezuela, with more proven oil reserves than saudi arabia, was once one of the richest countries in the world. governed for the past two decades by the socialist party and ravaged by corruption and inefficiency, it is now on the verge of collapse with spreading hunger, rampant crime, and triple digit inflation. how bad will it get?
is there a solution? how should the trump administration react? joining me in new york is chris sabatini, professor of latin american studies at columbia university. and michael mccarthy, a research fellow at american university's center for latin american studies. i'm pleased to welcome them to the program. chris, you're in the studio with me. i will start with you. speak about how it got so bad, given all of the wealth and talent venezuela was famous for at one time. >> it was a confluence of issues. in 1988 when hugo chavez was elected, the two-party system that dominated venezuela for almost 30 years had basically imploded. you had an outsider candidate, a lieutenant colonel who had staged a coup earlier, came to power promising to clean up the
system. he did in the sense he completely did away with the old system. in doing so, he also doubled down on venezuela's oil wealth, which is considerable. over the course of his patronage-driven, very socialist-oriented economy, he basically consolidated the economy around oil. today, 96% of venezuela's exports are based on oil. that was fine when oil was $120 a barrel. today, it is around $40 a barrel and the country is hurting. ethan: beyond that, there are questions of institutions being able to withstand the kind of corruption that came in with that. >> he broke down the barriers between the semi-state-owned oil company and the government and raided its coffers, which also meant he did not invest in infrastructure and development. production has been declining. the central bank had been raided. he has corrupted and undermined democratic institutions.
the supreme court is firmly under his control. the electoral mission is firmly under his control. it has been stripped of power. ethan: michael, a little less than a year ago, you wrote in "the washington post" that venezuela is a powder keg. you said there is widespread social disorder triggering instability throughout the continent. is that right? is that still true or has something shifted and why? >> great question. i think it is accurate to say in 2016, the biggest fear those of us who follow venezuelan politics had was the potential of the country exploding in terms of social unrest. there were a number of episodes of instability on a citywide basis. however, the government hunkered down, deployed the armed forces
to repress these protests, and it managed to hold onto power. at the end of 2016 when the opposition managed to mobilize millions of the population on behalf of the recall referendum, the government blocked that effort which set the stage for what people thought would be a clash in the last couple of months of 2016. but lo and behold, an international supported dialogue process began immediately. that cooled the street down and de-escalated the situation in 2016, and it came to an end. i would describe the venezuelan population today as in a state of depression. they moved through the stages of grief with regards to the death of the recall referendum from mourning, to anger, to bargaining. now i think we are in a situation of depression where it
does not feel like there is a sense of possibility or hope about political change. that helps explain why, at the beginning of 2017, it has been quite a bit calmer on the streets of venezuela despite the fact the country is experiencing a recession marked by hyperinflation -- i should say depression marked by hyperinflation and severe shortages. ethan: this dialogue that you say calmed things down was promoted by the united states government under president obama. i think the dialogue has collapsed. i would be eager to hear from both of you whether you think the dialogue was the right policy. >> first, i want to compliment michael on what he said. it is a powder keg. he is absolutely right. it may seem depressed now, but what has happened in venezuela is dis-articulation of institutions and rules that could have mediated and provided some exits. you have a hyper polarized situation. 90% of families are food
insecure. they are not getting enough. they do not have medicines coming in. people are waiting in long lines. there is a boiling cauldron of discontent. the institutions are not there to mediate it. the government has postponed what would have been a constitutional referendum and elections for governors. the hope was there could be dialogue. the problem was the united states and later the vatican intervened. also the union of south american multilateral organizations tried to foster dialogue. but there were no rules to the dialogue. they were not holding the government accountable for basic rules and rights they were violating. there are over 100 political prisoners not being released or even on the table for discussion. ethan: let me go back to something you said. michael said a year ago it was a
powder keg and now it is in a state of depression. you say it is a powder keg. it seems there is a difference between whether it is about to blow or too depressed to do anything. is it your sense the streets could explode in venezuela? >> i think they could. the problem is the situation economically and socially has become so dire. people are scrounging in garbage to get food. people are starving. poverty is at 80%. they are pursuing basic survival needs now. that does not mean there is not deep-seated discontent and a level of repression from the government that should they begin to protest and take to the streets, i don't know where it will go. ethan: before we get to the dialogue, back to you, michael, on this question. when you spoke of moving from powder keg to depression, the impression you gave me was it is not about to explode. do you feel it is? did i misunderstand you? >> i think your analysis of my
review of 2016 is correct. i think at this point, venezuela opposition's leadership has a gigantic challenge in front of it which is to somehow get over the sense of demoralization that exists in the venezuelan population and create a sense of belief again. ethan: that brings me to ask you whether the dialogue approach was a problematic one from your perspective. >> i think there needs to be some nuancing in terms of how we understand the dialogue's negative affects in-country in terms of taking away the opposition's main resource at that time in october/november which was street mobilization. that is to say the opposition accepted a request from the vatican to not lead a march that was going to culminate in a rally in downtown caracas.
the vatican had made the request because it seemed likely such a rally would result in violence. the opposition basically took a step back. one could argue it was a mistake to call off the march completely. but you could also understand why the vatican made that request since its position for participating was that there be some peace in terms of political conflict. the problem is the vatican was not able to deliver. at this point, they have somewhat disengaged from the process. and there is a real problem because in-country, it is a problem of firepower in venezuela. how do you create a new equilibrium in which the opposition can in some way match force with the government? it is going to be very difficult. ethan: do you think the obama administration's desire to improve its relationship with cuba and take cuba out of the freezer caused it to have a
shortsighted view of what to do in venezuela? >> i think there are two answers to that question. part of the issue of not applying sanctions was in part driven by the state department and the career foreign service who wanted to pursue dialogue who had serious doubts about the opposition. it was not just obama administration policy. i think the obama administration made the calculation cuba was a lesser national security threat than venezuela was. did that mean they trimmed their sails a little bit on being more aggressive on venezuela? that is possibly true. but i do not think they were linked as directly as you might think. >> i generally agree with chris. i do not think there is much of a cost to sort of sanctioning venezuela. there is not much of a cost for hitting the country in that regard.
it does not have any support for example internationally really. democrats in congress are no longer willing to listen. liberal democrats are no longer willing to listen to the government's claims. you have a bipartisan consensus about the importance of sanctions are standing up for universal human rights. i think although there was the close sequencing, december 17, obama announced normalization. december 17, 2014, he announces normalization talks with cuba. the day after, he signs a bill from congress which resulted in the sanctions in 2015. there is a connection. the point is that venezuela, for the moment, is something where we are trying to rally the troops. but there still is not a consensus about what to do. no one is talking about the real value of the most aggressive action, which would be
sanctioning venezuela's will exports. as you mentioned in the run-up, that would hit the government where it hurts. but that seems unlikely because of the precedent it would set. we are not talking about a crisis that threatens vital u.s. national security interests. so it is a very difficult crisis to manage. we do not really have that many great options. the real point here is to argue that there are great costs for disengaging. we have made significant progress in ratcheting up pressure. there still remains a great amount of work to figure out a solution to this highly complicated problem. ethan: that is a great way to end it. i want to thank both of our guests tonight. ♪